No Distance Greater than the Stars
A Space Drama
in three parts
by Eleanor Willow
Chapter One – Space Station Regulus II
On a space station, telling night from day is nothing like it is on the surface of a planet– any planet, lest it be argued that some world or another has a particularly strange cycle. Even if the station could rotate on some arbitrarily-chosen axis, and whether or not it moved at a speed slow enough to match the diurnal period of a typical life-bearing planet, it would have made no difference. For one thing, the stations were small enough to cross in a very short period of time, some in only a few minutes, so that attempting to day a day side and a night side was utterly pointless. For another thing, the stations were intrinsically interstellar, which meant that they were not close enough to a star to be exposed to enough light to replicate night and day.
This was the kind of information Citlally had been reading about ever since she’d started her journey across the Orion arm of the galaxy. She was thrilled by the opportunity to explore the cosmos, and was intent on knowing everything she could about where she was going.
Her excitement was balanced by Endan’s easy-going demeanor. It wasn’t that he was stoic, not by far; he was simply more reserved in his joy over being able to travel with the woman he loved. Watching her pore over the books about stars and space stations made him smile, and he enjoyed the way she shared the most interesting facts with him so emphatically. To him, Citlally was truly a treasure to have and to hold.
Space station Regulus II was the fourth stop on their journey from Earth, and as he watched it grow larger as their shuttle approached it, he smiled to himself at the thought of how Citlally might react to the room he’d reserved for them. He’d gone to great length to ensure that they would be placed just as he requested, and expected their first night this far from home to be their most joyful yet. Citlally was excited just to be traversing the æther, but he knew her well enough to know that it would be even better to be in a special room.
The Hoshi-Narada, the ship that had brought them to Regulus Station II from their last stop,was immense, and it kept a large array of shuttles in its bays in order to send its passengers off to their destinations. Citlally kept track of every detail of their journey, from the ships to their room numbers to the codes painted on the sides of the shuttles. 2361-QXZRW, she scrawled in her journal in between glancing through the window. When she caught Endan looking over her shoulder at what she was writing, she grinned at him widely and laid a kiss on his cheek.
“Seventy-seven light years!” she exclaimed, the butterflies in her stomach causing her to act much younger than her actual age. “I can’t believe we made it this far!”
Endan nodded and scratched the side of his jaw. “The furthest we have ever been from home. Ye’re not at all nervous?”
“Why would I be?” she replied, giving him a perplexed look. “As long as we’re together, I wouldn’t even mind if we were two-hundred light years from home!”
“That’s a relief to hear, lass. I was afraid we’d have to cut our trip short,” he teased, laughing at the look she gave him in return.
She couldn’t stay mad at him for long, though, because his Irish accent always melted her heart, especially the way he called her ‘lass.’
As they went on talking, the shuttle pilot opened communications with the space station and commenced docking procedures, a process that always held Citlally’s complete attention. She fixed herself on the window, staring as the bay door on the space station began to open. When it stopped suddenly, and a pair of bright spotlights attached to the sides of the portal turned on, she blinked, and glanced to Endan for a mere split second.
“That’s not part of the normal procedure,” she breathed, gazing around for anything else unusual.
Endan watched with her, and was about to suggest that perhaps Regulus Station II did things differently, when there was a flash somewhere below them. Something long and narrow sped past the window, hardly more than a blur, startling Citlally into a yelp. She grabbed Endan’s arm and gazed up into the earthy green of his eyes.
“What could that have been?!”
Shaking his head, Endan peered outside. The shuttle had stopped, at he could just barely overhear radio communications coming from the cockpit. “It moved so fast, I couldnae tell if it was some ætherial life-form or small shuttle.”
“Ætherials out here?” Citlally pondered aloud. “I suppose it could happen, but that would be pretty unusual.”
Endan shrugged. “Aren’t some of them curious about planetary life-forms? I’m sure our space stations must be very confusin’ to them.”
They spoke further on the subject for a few minutes, until a pair of shuttles, the word SECURITY painted on them in a variety of languages, descended upon either side of their transport. After another minute of radio communication, the bay doors opened the rest of the way, and shuttle 2361-QXZRW floated slowly inside of Regulus Station II. Citlally peered behind them, through the opposite window, and noticed that a third security shuttle was following behind. She was thinking up something to say about the whole phenomenon as their shuttle touched down and switched over to disembarking procedures, but found herself at a loss for words.
The shuttle pilot opened one door, rather than both of them, and invited several uniformed agents aboard, some of them male, some female, a few too alien for the couple to be certain which they were. They looked over the thirty-odd passengers of the shuttle, then murmured to one another briefly. Finally, one of them turned to the pilot and nodded.
“They are cleared to disembark. We will escort them through security and keep in contact with the Hoshi-Narada.”
“Well, these travelers will be glad to hear that!” the older pilot replied, trying to keep the good humor in his voice.
The man stepped into the cockpit with the pilot, and Citlally could hear them talking about getting the shuttle back out of the docking bay. She held her tongue from any comments, noticing the way the guards had their eyes on every single passenger. Row by row, they were escorted off of the shuttle and led across the drab gray of the docking bay, out into a brightly-lit hallway. It was plainer than she’d expected it to be, and she reminded herself that it wasn’t the main causeway.
The passengers soon found themselves in a wide room, which had been set up with tables and chairs, and a long counter where several workers had assembled. They all wore uniforms, but not the kind that signified that they were in security. They seemed more like travel representatives, ready to check the new arrivals into the station. Citlally was used to having to check in, but never in a style such as this. The heightened level of security and care had definitely put her on her guard.
“Have we done something wrong?” she asked out loud, to nobody in particular, as a man with several pins on his collar asked them to take a seat.
“This security inspection is for your own safety,” the higher-ranking man replied. Although he was alien, and she had to guess his age differently, there was something about him that told Citlally that he was quite old. “We are doing everything in our power to ensure that you are still able to travel as you had originally planned.”
Endan noticed the worried look on his beloved’s face, and asked the older man, “Is something dangerous goin’ on? If it isn’t safe here, we can go back to the Hoshi-Narada and continue on our way.”
The older man gave an offended scoff and responded without any hesitation, “Young man, you are safer here on this station than you ever were on that wandering hunk of metal. I have the security of this facility down to an art, and nobody and no thing that would be unwelcome here goes undetected. You can take your risk with space pirates, solar flares, and nebula storms out there, or you enjoy your vacation here on Regulus Station II. The security detail that you saw is not reactionary, but precautionary. That is how I have kept this station safe for the past decade, even while the two stations closest to us fell victim to pirates and rebels.”
“He was even the one who led the brigades to rescue those stations,” one of the uniformed men added.
“No need to be boastful,” the older man admonished. “Get these two through security and checked in. I am sure they would like to get to their rooms sooner rather than later.”
The young man acknowledged his orders and called over another agent, this one a tall female from a world where the dominant species had narrow tails of soft green fur. She led Citlally over to one of the counters that was set with computer terminals and various devices, which she assumed were used for identity verification. The male security agent led Endan over to his own part of the counter, where he was asked for his galactic passport and several other identifying documents.
Endan was used to having to carry so many items, though it surprised him that he was actually being asked for all of them, since most station security checkpoints only requested one or two. Still, if it mean that they were safe there, he was more then willing to oblige. He knew that he had nothing to hide, and he rather liked knowing that everyone was being asked for such documents, because it meant that any undesirable entities would easily be weeded out.
For several minutes, the agent said nothing, but clacked away at the keyboard of his computer terminal. Endan looked him over, noticing the blue-green hue of his skin, but reminded himself not to stare. Instead, he gave Citlally a sidelong glance, puckering his lips towards her once or twice when he saw that she was looking. She giggled softly, but stopped as soon as the security personnel looking over her file cleared her throat in an obvious show of frustration.
“It says here that you have a DNA profile registered with the Galactic Security Coalition,” the agent said after a few more minutes of reviewing Endan’s documentation. “I take it your kind completes this examination using blood?”
Endan blinked for a moment, then replied, “W-well aye, we do, but is that really necessary?” Besides that, he wondered why he had even asked him about the method, since that fact would have also been in the database.
“The captain’s orders are to verify all points of identity, sir,” the agent replied, his tone showing that he very well intended to verify Endan’s DNA. “You would not want a false agent to come in with anything altered.”
When he heard a cry of “Ow!” from Citlally, he looked over to see that she’d already placed her hand in a round, black device; she had consented to the DNA verification.
“I have no reason to argue the point,” Endan sighed, though deep down he resented being poked with needles. Even with all their modern technology, most blood draws were done without anesthetic; it was reserved for children and those with deep-set fears of needles.
The security agent gestured to the black device at his own station. “Place your left palm inside,” he requested in a pleasant enough tone.
Endan obliged, feeling the soft texture of the foam-like material beneath his skin. The device closed around his hand, and he felt warmth on each of his fingers in succession. Then, without warning, a needle pricked through his ring finger, and the device tightened further for a moment before a green light in the back flashed and it released his hand.
“Sample successfully obtained,” the security agent noted while Endan winced and shook out his hand. The agent peered up at him, opened a small drawer below his terminal, and slid a small flat rectangle over to him. “You can travel this far across the galactic arm, yet your people still use such archaic methods.”
Endan grimaced, but did not refuse the bandage. He peeled off the wrapper and slowly rolled the sticky part around his finger, letting the tiny square of gauze fall right where another bead of blood was forming. “Then why not teach us how ye do it so much better?”
Shrugging, the agent replied, “It is a question of compatibility.”
“Fine,” Endan sighed, the frustration starting to get to him, as well as a certain amount of fatigue. “Am I cleared for check-in now?”
“You blood sample is still being processed. Please be patient.”
“Still? I thought ye had advanced computer technology.”
The agent let out a weary sigh and replied, “Sir, Terran biology being what it is, you cannot expect an immediate analysis. Your DNA is filled with errors, repetitive strings of code, and all sort of other irregularities. Even with our computers, your genetic code is difficult to analyze.”
Endan let of a disgruntled harrumph and leaned on the counter. He rather liked his telomeres, whether or not other-worldly species had so-called more efficient code. After another couple of minutes, the agent working with Citlally raised her arm and another agent walked over to her. Endan watched as they looked over the screen and nodded to one another. They handed back her stack of documents, and she thanked them, a kind smile on her face. Strangely enough, she was not excused from the counter right away.
“You’re waiting for him?” he heard the second agent ask Citlally, who confirmed her guess. They agreed that she would wait there and then be escorted together once he was cleared.
“Rate of decay confirmed,” Endan’s security agent read off the screen. “DNA is genuine and unaltered. The individual identity code is a match to what is in your file. All inconsistencies are within normal range for your species.”
He raised his arm and the other agent left Citlally to come over and check his terminal. They looked over the screen, which Endan knew he had no hope of ever seeing, and then the second agent nodded.
She also sighed. “Human DNA is such a mess,” she muttered in a thick accent. “It has such a wide margin of error that it makes them the easiest race to…” She glanced over at Endan and stopped herself from saying anything else. “You are lucky that those ships have ample radiation shielding.”
“I’m forever grateful,” Endan told her, trying not to sound sarcastic. However much he denied it, he was offended that she’d insulted his race for its DNA; how was he to control something like that?
“You are cleared for check-in,” she added. “You two may follow me to the front desk and I will inform them that you have passed security clearance.”
The male agent handed Endan his documents, which he placed in his shoulder bag as soon as it was brought back to him from the scanner. He turned around to see Citlally walking up to his side, and gave her a relived smile. She wasted no time in grabbing his hands in hers, and leaning towards him for a kiss that lasted long enough to try the security agent’s patience and prompt her to clear her throat twice before their lips separated.